Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down explored nothing smaller than the birth of a large portion of the music we listen to today: the pioneering hip-hop and disco made by marginalized youngsters living in the South Bronx during the 1970s. But because it was a Baz Luhrmann production, it wasn’t just the subject that was huge in its scope: so was the budget. Like Luhrmann’s films, The Get Down was an expensive, flashy, and intermittently beguiling undertaking. This meant the highest-ever budget for a series at Netflix ($120 million for the two-part first season), and one of the highest in all TV history. And with such a high budget comes high pressure. Sadly, according to Variety the series has just been cancelled, having completed only that first season — but the reasons may not be so clear-cut.
Netflix is known to generally not cancel series very often, having only let go of five prior to this: Longmire, Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove, Marco Polo, and Bloodline, which will conclude following the release of its third season. According to a previous report in Variety, The Get Down‘s production was met by many roadblocks and “behind-the-scenes troubles,” and earned low ratings on its release. It also allegedly earned the writers’ room nickname “The Shut Down” because of the ever-uncertain production — with two showrunners leaving and Luhrmann taking that role after having just wanted to be the series’ creator/director, and tensions allegedly rising with Sony after the series went millions over budget. Compared to the streaming service’s most popular series in 2016 — Orange is the New Black‘s fourth season — The Get Down did poorly, getting 20 percent as many viewers in the first 31 days of its first season.
A letter from Baz Luhrmann on Facebook suggests another (though perhaps related) reason for the cancellation: he wanted to focus on a film, while the network apparently only wanted to continue with him as showrunner. (Cue the sounds of dead 1920s authors rolling around in their graves hoping their novel isn’t the next to be picked to become a Vegas-y contemporary pop-scored nightmare.) Luhrmann writes:
When I was asked to come to the center of The Get Down to help realize it, I had to defer a film directing commitment for at least two years. This exclusivity has understandably become a sticking point for Netflix and Sony, who have been tremendous partners and supporters of the show. It kills me that I can’t split myself into two and make myself available to both productions. I feel so deeply connected to all those who I have worked and collaborated with on this remarkable experience. All sorts of things have been thrown around for the future… even a stage show (can you imagine that? I can, concert version anyone? Next summer? Just saying.) But the simple truth is, I make movies. And the thing with movies is, that when you direct them, there can be nothing else in your life. Since The Get Down stopped, I have actually been spending the last few months preparing my new cinematic work…
The post goes beyond mere explanation, and is actually a very sweet love letter to the series, the talent behind it, and the historical talents it evoked: he waxes poetic about the cast of young actors on the series, and then references the “forefathers of hip-hop:
Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Kurtis Blow, Raheim and all the b-boys, b-girls, graffiti-writers, MC’s and DJ’s that made this story possible. As well as the keepers of the flame and guiding lights, such as Nas. We experienced things together that I will never forget. All of us in The Get Down family have been touched by this precious mission of telling the pre-history of a form of culture that would go on to change not only the city, but the world.
Fans have been responding with frustration and disappointment on social media:
(That last Tweet’s pretty perfect.)
The show’s star Justice Smith wrote:
Indeed, while the series may have been plagued by behind the scenes difficulties, and while it may have received mixed reviews, it did revivify a hugely important, hugely underrepresented chapter in America music history. Former Flavorwire Editor in Chief Judy Berman noted for Pitchfork that it was a “rare musical drama that actually does justice to the music,” and Lara Zarum wrote here that “The Get Down’s most compelling scenes are often the ones in which a character breaks down how to create a specific sound.”